Tokyo Chorus (1931)

21 07 2008

Not an overwhelming masterpiece here, but definitely a great sign of things to come from not only a young Ozu, but an extremely young Hideko Takamine. Mikio Naruse’s muse is only seven or eight years old here, and she seems to be missing all her front teeth, but none the less, she is as captivating as ever. The film itself isn’t as remarkable as its historical context, but still a lot of fun none the less. Ozu hasn’t quite gotten his preferred aesthetic down at this point, but on the positive side, this leads to plenty of interesting formal experimentation. Saying it is for Ozu fans only might imply that it isn’t that good, but it is very good and still, generally for big-time Ozu fans.

Shinji Okajima is a young father of three (already!) and despite his steady job at an insurance firm, he continues to receive pressure at home from his children. Expecting a yearly bonus, he promises his son that he will buy him a bicycle, but on payday, things don’t go as planned. Shinji discovers that an older employee is unjustly getting fired and goes to his boss to protest. His good intentions lead to his termination, which he seems fine with, until he remembers that he promised his son a bicycle.

While Hideko Takamine’s small role as Shinji’s daughter is a very welcome cast choice, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed that the great Tomio Aoki wasn’t cast as Shinji’s son. It’s not an overwhelming loss, but one’s enjoyment of the film seems based much around the novelty of the context. In this case, Aoki, would have been a helpful addition. Like Ozu’s later An Inn in Tokyo, this one is at its best when it proceeds to indulge in moments of a proto-glue sniffing aesthetic, which is essentially my own term for gritty and surreal (think Herzog) moments of humor. In general, one of the most appealing elements of Ozu’s earliest work is that it tends to take place within the “lower class” which adds a sense of dirt (for lack of a better word) to Ozu’s technical trademarks. Anyway, this is a wonderfully entertaining experience with shades of Ozu’s future brilliance.

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